As you may have deduced, this first post on our wild foods is dedicated to fennel. It is the one I have the most relationship with “I love to eat and collect them”, but I have only enjoyed their stems, since I have never tasted their bulb or their seeds.
First, fennel is a family of the carrot, it has part of its stems buried, they are called bulbs. Like the carrot, the fennel bulb is considered a vegetable.
Second, fennel seeds look like and are even confused with anise, although their smell and taste are milder.
Gathering some data of interest, I have verified that there is a town in Greece called Marathon, which was called that way in ancient times because it was home to large fields of fennel (which in Greek is called marathon). This town was known in ancient Greece because it was the scene of the first victory of the Greeks over the Persians. The word marathon is also used to refer to an Olympic discipline. In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus to bring it to earth for the enjoyment of men, using a large, hollow stalk of fennel. And finally, as a noteworthy fact, fennel is one of the three essential ingredients for making “absinthe“. This was considered a spirit drink during the 19th century. Absinthe is made from the wormwood plant, fennel flowers and anise flowers. Its elaboration is carried out by distilling these three ingredients. To the resulting liquid after distillation, cold water and sugar were added just before consumption, which produced a “good ball”. The level of addiction to absinthe led to its consumption being prohibited in many countries at the beginning of the 20th century, especially in France. Well, after collecting some curious facts about fennel and knowing the contribution of vitamins and minerals, I am totally convinced that fennel was one of the secret ingredients of the world known as “Panoramix potion”, which made invincible to a small group of Gallic villagers first of all a great Roman empire.
Fennel natural benefits and gastronomic facets:
For me, fennel has three great different gastronomic facets. The first would be its bulb, which is considered a vegetable. I have not been able to taste this part of the fennel yet, therefore I cannot comment on its flavor and texture. The second would be its seeds, which would be considered a spice. Its smell and flavor are very similar to anise, although with much softer touches. The third would be its stalks, which I would consider as vegetables. This part of fennel is what I usually collect and taste.
Fennel is a plant that supports very well in arid lands. It only needs a few months of rain in autumn or winter to sprout again. In my case, I usually collect it on the banks of the ramblas (which are the closest thing to a river that we have in Almería) and in well-drained land, that is, in which there is no waterlogging. If in the month of November there were abundant and copious rains, it would begin to sprout at the end of December. If, on the contrary, the autumn had been dry, the fennel would delay its sprouting until February. It should be noted that the consumption of its shoots and stems could be delayed at most at the end of April, because the stems would begin to harden and become more fibrous. It is the time of year where the plant would prepare for its flowering.
Fennels usually sprout together, on several plants at the same time, forming a kind of shrub. This is often called “hinojeras.” In the autumn months, before the rains, fennels are usually made up of a series of brittle straw rods or very hardened green ribbons. The greyish rods would be the stubble of the fennel, that is, the dry and dead part of the plants, which are usually intermixed with greener rods or ribbons (they would be the hardened stems through which sap still runs inside). These strips usually produce green shoots at germination time, but the best shoots are those that emerge directly from the ground, that is, the shoots that develop in the bulb of the plant.
At first glance, the tender shoots are usually distinguished, which must be cut close to the ground. In this way, if the bulb is not damaged, the fennels will be born every year.
In addition, it is a very expansive plant, because it produces a large number of seeds, which take advantage of the benefit of the wind to expand.
How to cook them:
Returning to the stems, fennels when they are very tender can be eaten raw, they have a texture like celery and a slight aniseed flavor. Fennel gives us natural benefits. In my case, I consume them boiled daily. A pot is usually filled in half with water and the fennel is introduced until it costs to close the pot (fennel loses a lot of volume when cooking) and salt is added (it helps to cook). In a pressure cooker the fennel will be cooked in 30 minutes. In any other pot it will take an hour and a half. Once the cooking is finished, it is seasoned with olive oil and vinegar (and to eat like a “sheep”). I love it with lots of vinegar. It can also be used and cooked together with chard (although these take much less time to cook). In addition, fennel once cooked can be used in a large number of pot meals (stews, wheat, etc.) I also use fennel when I make shrimp consommé. I cook the remains of the prawns with fennel, as this counteracts the strength of the flavor of the prawn heads and the cadmium they contain. To end this first post about this wonderful plant, I want to highlight that fennel has a large amount of vitamins and minerals that help to counteract the harmful effects of other products that affect our body. Be clear about one thing: “genetics can give us a glimpse of our future, but diet is the best way to counteract it, for better or for worse.”